As some of you know I, Ash Hess, also work as an instructor for DHR Firearms Training in LaGrange, GA. This past weekend, due to a scheduled class falling through, we ran a test class in conjunction with Liberty Hill Tactical. Here is an AAR from one of the students.
DHR Training/ FMJ Armory Build and Blast Class AAR 3-4 JUN 17
I attended the DHR Training/ FMJ Armory Build and Blast class on 3-4 JUN 17 at FMJ Armory and a private range in Lagrange, GA, with three other students on day one (build) and four others on day two (blast). The instructors were Ash Hess of DHR Training and Russell Allen of FMJ Armory. Russell also owns Liberty Hill Tactical which will come into play later.
TD1 started at shop opening at 10:00. Ash and Russell introduced themselves, gave a bit about their backgrounds, and gave a brief overview as to what the class would entail. Ash moved on to a history of American fighting guns (rifle/carbine) from the Civil War period onward. This was good information to have as the AR-pattern rifle is a fighting gun and has been improved upon since its adoption by the U.S. armed forces in the early 1960s. As it stands now, the AR-pattern rifle in carbine form is an optimized weapon, allowing ease of use through ergonomics, great accuracy and good terminal effects with the right ammunition, and ease of movement carrying it through its weight and size. He then went over the AR-pattern rifle and its cycle of function, explaining how the rifle should operate.
Ash then discussed tailoring one’s rifle build for the individual’s need or mission. Someone firing the National Matches at Camp Perry has a much different need for different configuration of the same base rifle than a police officer serving as an entry man on the SRT as the mission is significantly different. Although the police officer is likely not building his patrol rifle, the example still stands because his department needs to understand the context when purchasing. Among the things discussed were barrel contour and twist, trigger assemblies, chamber specifications, forend assemblies, grips, sights, and gas systems. He discussed selecting enablers and ammunition based on the same priorities dictated by intended use. Also included were discussions on ballistics- primarily internal at this point.
Russell joined the discussion as he and Ash covered parts selection. This was great for me as I am specing out a build for myself. They covered not only that not all parts are equal but that even high-end parts made by different reputable manufacturers will not always work well together. Parts selection and compatibility are vital as the bolt carrier group (BCG) and barrel are the heart of the gun. A gun may run well with a subpar trigger group so long as the trigger group remains functional. A high-end BCG that doesn’t mesh well with a high-end barrel will result in a poorly running gun. A big part of this regarding the function is the gas system. The gas port must be cut to the right dimension for optimal performance and the gas block must be properly mounted and secured. Over-gassing or under-gassing will produce problems over time, especially with different gun/ammunition combinations. Barrel twist was also covered briefly, with an eye toward bullet weight and profile compared with the best twist rate for that load. Classroom discussion brought us to a late lunch.
After lunch, we went into the gunsmith shop where Russell talked us through parts selection based on quality control and reputable manufacturers, then talked through and demonstrated inspection of the parts selected to build a Liberty Hill Tactical rifle. During this process, he also discussed different treatments such as nitride versus chrome lined versus stainless barrels, as well as BCGs being treated with nickel boron or nickel Teflon compounds for lubricity. Russell began the rifle build after completing his inspections. He talked through each step of building the rifle from components and showed key areas for the builder to focus on. He stopped to demonstrate how the upper receiver face was trued for barrel mounting to provide for the best lockup and accuracy (I hadn’t previously been taught this despite being a factory qualified mil/LE armorer through a major manufacturer). Russell gauged for proper headspace and showed things to look for regarding the BCG and trigger assembly. He also took an extra minute to show easier ways to do things like installing pins. While mounting the barrel and receiver extension he explained proper torque and how to use the torque wrench, torqueing each and breaking it loose, tightening each a total of three times, then explained and demonstrated as he staked the receiver extension. He showed proper lubrication after assembling the rifle and had each student bring their rifles for a gunsmith’s inspection and we discussed maintenance briefly.
This brings us to the blast part of the class. We moved on to the indoor range and Russell test fired the Liberty Hill Tactical rifle he had just built. It ran flawlessly through the 88 rounds fired to end the day. Each student got to fire the rifle then we zeroed it. Zeroing the rifle provided a good opportunity for Ash to discuss the Shot Process… my less than stellar performance at this point (as the zeroing volunteer) gave him a good opportunity to discuss best practices. It was evening by this point and we broke for the day after zeroing the new rifle.
TD 2 began with meeting at FMJ Armory at 9:30. We moved as a group to a private range nearby and began training. Ash discussed zero, external ballistics, and height over bore. We fired some at roughly 25 yards from a standing position with Ash providing tips on the Shot Process. The focus areas at this point were stability and building a good position, along with holdover to compensate for height over bore on sighting systems. After running some at 25, we moved to 100 yards and all shot on AR500 steel using the weapons we had brought. I ran the Liberty Hill Tactical rifle, leaving my personal BCM in the vehicle. We had zeroed the optic for 200 and shooting at 100 yards it printed about 3” above point of aim. My first group measured at about 2.5 MOA excluding a called flier low of the group. I’m certain this group size is a product of the shooter and not the weapon. All shooters did work at 100 yards producing good hits on a ½ scale steel target. After working at 100 yards we moved to 200 where all shooters worked steel again. The rifle ran flawlessly and allowed boringly predictable hits. At this point we had transitioned to the head of the target just to run on a smaller target area. In total, four of us fired multiple rounds through the new rifle from a benched position at 200 yards with 100% hit rates to the head of the target. Ash used the opportunity to further discuss the Shot Process at this point.
The zero we acquired at 25 yards required no refinement at 200 to produce these hits. This was extremely pleasing to me as we had used a zeroing tool I’ve been preparing for market. The pressure was on with using this tool in front of an audience and the performance was good… but that’s a conversation for another time.
We left the range, grabbed a late lunch on the way, and met back at FMJ Armory. We went on the indoor range again and Ash worked us on emergency reloads. We also fired drills from the low ready and high ready, while Ash discussed why to use each in its place. At this point we had reached the end of the course at about 6:00. The material covered in live training was more than sufficient as all students were seasoned shooters. It allowed us to refine some basic skills we all were proficient at but could always stand to work. Total round count on the new rifle was 255 rounds, without a single problem.
This class was refreshing and informational. I learned about parts selection more than anything else. Being previously trained as an armorer, I was taught to deal with a specific parts set. This was different and for good reason; organizational armorers deal with provided systems where regular people have more freedom to make their own choices. Bad decisions produce bad results, even with quality parts. I was also taught to look at and inspect things I hadn’t previously been trained to look at including gas port sizing. I’m thankful that I went to this class before buying components for my build.
The hands-on portion of training was informational as well. While it was less comprehensive than a two-day carbine class, that wasn’t the focus. The focus was right about where it should’ve been. It was nice to see the Shot Process taught after reading it in U.S. Army TC 3-22.9, Rifle and Carbine. It was even better to be receiving the Shot Process from the man that wrote TC 3-22.9.
This class did run a bit long on both days. That was far from problematic for me as I drove in from NC to attend and was where I traveled to be. None of the other students seemed bothered or in a hurry to leave either. Both Ash and Russell stated the timing was pending some refinement and that this was a pilot class. Having been involved as a trainer in the past, I’m well acquainted with piloting training and the hiccups that can happen- there were zero perceived hiccups here and that says much of the individuals organizing it. The training presented was right about where it should’ve been and with the refinement I’m certain will be even better. If I had to recommend a single adjustment for the class it would be that students probably benefit more from doing a build in a build class. This could be prohibitively expensive for some, so a compromise there could be tearing student guns down and rebuilding with their existing parts.
In the end, I’m very happy to have attended the DHR Training / FMJ Armory Build and Blast class. It was a relaxed and enjoyable weekend with good people and good learning. I believe everyone that attended walked away having learned some good things and happy with the weekend. I will attend again in the future and am anxious to see the further improved product after course refinement. Many thanks to Ash and Russell for putting on a great event.“